The Mouth reels off recollections of speech and silence, speaking so fast (Beckett wanted the delivery to be lickety-split) that you sometimes strain to understand. Occasionally, an image surges up from the verbal current: cowslips, a ray of light, a shopping bag, a buzzing sound. Periodically, the Mouth seems to hear an interruption — “What?” she squawks — and sometimes she editorializes with a scoffing laugh. (As the consciousness-burdened figures in these three plays usually do, she seems to be describing herself in the third person.)
Over the course of the brief piece, Ingvarsson is hidden behind a dark wall, with an aperture revealing her frenetically moving mouth. It’s a tour de force by the actress, who generates welcome bursts of humor with her squawks and scoffs, even as her agitated speech evokes a disquieting vision of awareness.
“Not I” epitomizes Beckett’s preference for paring away theater’s dispensable aspects. The other two playlets are nearly as austere. “Footfalls” imagines a woman who shares a suffocating life with her bedridden mother. A haggard figure in a long, gray skirt and shawl, with straggling white hair and a numb expression, Ingvarsson’s May paces back and forth in front of a grimy wall. Occasionally, the disembodied voice of her mother (an entrancingly eerie Nancy Robinette) is heard, narrating her daughter’s movement, for instance. When May speaks — offering her mother an injection, remembering a stint of nocturnal pacing at a church — the words can be so unemotional that the syllables barely hold together, as if language itself were disintegrating.
Replete with incantatory repetition, the third playlet, “Rockaby,” also summons a vision of stoicism amid monotony. We see Ingvarsson’s Woman, wearing a beaded black dress and hat, rocking in a rocking chair. Meanwhile, her chanting voice, in voice-over, recalls a lonely, restless figure gravitating to a window. When the voice-over pauses, the visible Woman cries out, “More!” It’s a glimpse of someone dying — or maybe someone living. After all, they’re the same thing.
The Beckett Trio, plays by Samuel Beckett, directed by Robert McNamara. Assistant director, Solomon Haile Selaisse; set design, John D. Antone; costumes, Sigrid Johannesdottir; sound, Denise Rose; lighting, Johnathan Alexander. One hour. Tickets: $25-$35. Through April 8 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Call 202-339-7993 or visit atlasarts.org.